The Travels of Chang Ching Chong

An autobiography

My father was the village schoolmaster of Kien-fei, an obscure hamlet not very far from I-yang in the province of Ho-nan. Our home is by the bank of a little stream which runs into one of the tributaries of the great Yang-tse-kiang. At my birth, my father consulted a neighbouring fortune-teller, who, for 50 cash, constructed my horoscope and gave me the name of Hoa-yuan (literally ‘fire origin’). The time of my birth, it so happened, was precisely the moment when the sun stood in the meridian at the vernal equinox. It was then determined that my nature consisted rather too much of water, and hence the name to counteract the excessive influence of the aqueous element. My parent was advised to study the sheet on which my future life was predicted and parent was advised to study the sheet on which my future life was predicted and he was warned to keep me from going anywhere near the water in which I ran great risk of losing my life. I was brought up with all the care and attention which my parents could bestow on their only son. When I was old enough to understand, I remember our neighbours telling me. “Your mother is worthy to bring up a Mencius.” I was very obedient and dared not approach water in a tub, ditch, pond or river. My parents told me that they should not be happy if I disobeyed them.

One day, my father went to a distant village to help a rich man’s son over his studies while my mother paid a visit to her old home. I was left to keep the house and to look after our little family of cats, dogs, pigs and poultry. Sitting at the door, I watched the ducks getting down to the stream and sailing away in great glee. For the first time I became interested in the water, and, forgetful of all my parents’ warnings, I went down the bank of the steam, waded and tried to overtake the ducks which now had got some distance away. The tide was going down and, fortunately for me, a boatman passed and frightened me to get back, for he was my father’s friend. I returned quite excited; my clothes were wet through. Being a plucky little fellow, I thought I could do the same as the boatman if I got into a tub and paddled away with my father’s fans. I therefore ran to the kitchen and, with the help of Fo Yung who lived next door, carried the largest tub found there to the river side. I could not discover the fans, but my friend suggested that two plates would be equally serviceable. He was a daring fellow, and we proposed to catch the ducks and fasten them to our tub, so that they may drag us along the water. We both got into the tub and pushed ourselves off. Lo! We did not require any paddling for we were rapidly carried away by the retreating tide. As we floated down stream, men, women and children pointed at us and shouted, “come back, you lose your life.” Others laughed, while some thought we were castaways. We enjoyed the fun immensely, forgot all about the ducks (now no longer to be seen), and were bent on seeing the sights and hearing the sounds so new and strange to us. At last we felt alarmed, for our tub began to whirl round and round instead of floating steadily on. In an instant, the tub was upset and we two boys were struggling in the water. We shouted, sank, swallowed mouthfuls of water, rose and shouted again. After that I never saw my brave companion any more in this world. He doubtless sank and went to his watery grave. As for me, I did not know what else happened after this until I found myself on board a Spanish smuggling boat which had come up to I-yang to exchange opium for silk and tea. I remember the boat went down the stream, and in the Yang-tse we were taken to a very large ship with four masts. The day after my arrival on board we weighed anchor and with favourable winds in less than one week we lost sight of land.

When I first regained consciousness, I was too ill to know my condition and my position. I ate and drank with apparent contentment whatever was given me; thought seemingly being in abeyance. A few days of kind treatment revived me, and I began to weep and jump and throw myself down because I was fond of my parents and loved to read my lessons. The captain tried to console me, and finding that I was an intelligent youth, he took me to his cabin and pointed to an oldish Chinese volume lying on his desk. I rushed for it; the strangeness of the red-haired people endeared me to anything that reminded me of home. I opened the book, and tears rolled down my eyes. I found my father’s name written on the cover. It was a volume of philosophy composed by one of my ancestors Chang Tsai—a man well-known in his day. I remember being told that this particular book had been in the possession of my family for 18 generations. I was anxious to know how the book came to be on board the ship. I therefore asked the captain question after question, but alas! He smiled and shook his head.

To my sorrow I found no one able to understand me. I resolved therefore to pick up the foreigner’s language, and in a short time my patience and perseverance were rewarded for I found myself able to converse on ordinary matters with the captain and the crew. I must not forget to mention that in Father Ferdinand Villasco I found a true spiritual father and a most painstaking teacher. My occupation consisted in taking lessons from him and I was delighted with the simplicity of the European alphabet and charmed by the melodious cadence of the Spanish tongue. When left to myself, I would pore over the writing of my aforementioned ancestor. In this way, 20 days passed without adventure. On the 21st morning, I was awakened by the heavy rolling of the ship. I heard the men shouting and rushing about. I ran to Father Ferdinand’s cabin and found the good man on his knees, with a rosary in his hand, and his eyes lifted towards heaven. I was scarcely able to stand. Fright and the rolling of the ship completely upset me. He beckoned me to his side. I stumbled towards him and fainted away. When I became conscious again, he was sitting beside me, attending to my sickness, and comforting me. He said that we were in a typhoon, and that we had lost our bearings and had drifted mastless and rudderless, and were in momentary danger of being swallowed up by the angry waves. I did not fully realise the dangers he was referring to, but was frightened by his pale and anxious look. I clasped his hands and sobbed. “Father Ferdinand,” said I, “what will happen to us? Will you take me back to see my father and mother again?”

“Do not be frightened, child. Trust in the Almighty Father. He will still the waves, and yet restore you to your home.” With such and like kind words he soothed me to sleep.

But the next morning was worse than the day before. To relieve my sickness, the good priest took me on deck. The sea was angry, the sky was dark, the winds blew fast and the ship rolled heavily. I was never more frightened in my life. I became so ill that he had to carry me down. A fever came over me; I was delirious for five days and from all accounts should have died and been thrown into the sea but for the devotion of my teacher and friend.

When I recovered, the storm had abated. The sun shone again, but our ship had become hopelessly unmanageable, and was drifting with the current towards Luzon. On the 50th day after leaving the Yang-tse, we sighted land. Towards sunset, we ran aground on some rocks. A boat was lowered to take the crew to an island close by. The crew worked hard and succeeded in bringing ashore all the ship’s provisions. The first thing we did was to build a bower close to the shore to keep our belongings and shelter ourselves.

The next day, the captain told me that the island had never been visited by civilized man, and that, had he had his choice, he would not have landed us on that spot. He thought we had very little chance of being picked up by a passing ship. We had probably to live on the island until we were starved to death, or eaten up by wild beasts and wild men.


 Several months passed without any mishap to our little colony, but we were always on the look out for something to happen. Meantime on a jungle clearing close to the shore we had built two huts out of materials removed from our vessel and such jungle products as palm leaves and rattan. Father Ferdinand was the soul of our small society. Zeal for religion was in this good man combined with sincerity of character so that from the captain downwards he was recognised as the guide and philosopher in things spiritual as well as temporal. Depth of knowledge was reflected in the simplicity and austerity of his life while conviction in the great truths of religion enabled him to face all dangers and difficulties without fear. While other men were moping and pining, this priest of the Society of Jesus was a happy as he could be, working ceaselessly, now in exhortation, now at his books, again at my lessons and always in recording observations on plants and animals which had been collected at his request. Through his exertions, the cleared ground was cultivated with sugar cane, maize and peas. Our poultry had flourished and multiplied in an unexpected manner, and although not provided with the luxuries of civilized life, we were still above want and had sufficient wine to last us many months.

The captain was a great fisher and spent nearly his whole time on the water. The other men were not well satisfied, so that one day they sent a few spokesmen to Father Ferdinand to ask if he would give them his blessing on their departure from the island, as they had determined to risk their lives on a raft in the hopes of reaching Manila rather than waste time and energy in vegetating at the colony, which we had christened Santa Maria. The priest however counselled them to be patient and warned them of the dangers to which they exposed themselves. If they were bent on going, he would give them his blessing and invoke to their aid St. Anthony and St. Augustin. The men would leave the island at all costs. So the next day they fastened together twenty trunks of trees with the twisted fibres made from the bark of a certain tree. The rattan palms were plentiful and became very serviceable. On the raft a hut was built raised three feet from the floor. In this way there was a comfortable room free from water, and this was to be used as cabin and store-room. When I saw the raft with its little hut, I began to think of joining the party. I therefore went to ask the priest’s advice. As I expected, the priest did not like my going away, but the more I thought of the monotony of our lives the more I felt I ought to leave. So I made up my mind to run away. The Spaniards looked sulky when I asked them to take me with them, but one kindly-disposed sailor, Gomez, championed my cause and I was allowed to join the gang. A pole did duty as a mast to support a big sail which had been prepared from palm leaves and bamboo. The priest and captain had gone to enjoy their usual siesta when we quietly launched our funny ship and were rapidly carried away by a strong current which was sweeping past Santa Maria in a south easterly direction. The cottages of Santa Maria were soon out of sight; land in a few hours the island was right away in the northern horizon. We had out our sail, and I spent the day along with the other men in trying to catch some big fish which were following our ship. The experience of the first day was the most pleasant I have yet known. On the third day, we encountered a strong gale, and to our great sorrow, our hut was totally wrecked, so that when the rain came we were drenched and lost all our flour and rice cakes. Some of the men thought we were in the vicinity of an active volcano. We were absolutely helpless and were tossed about by all the fury of the waves. At length we heard peculiar rumbling sounds – all around the sky darkened—and instantly there came a thunderous crash, a flash of red light, and what followed no mortal who saw the red glare could describe. We were simply dazed, deafened and struck down. Fortunately this terrific explosion only gave us a great fear, for when we regained consciousness we were all lying huddled together by the side of our raft on a field apparently well cultivated.

The sky was all aglow with lurid red, the sun sinking behind the long range of mountains in our rear. We then realised through what a convulsion of nature we had passed. We endeavoured to find out the inhabitants who tilled the fields, but could see no human dwellings. The country was full of active volcanoes, a few of which might be seen far away belching forth smoke and occasionally a column of fire. When night came on we took refuge on a big tree, but we had not rested an hour before we heard the tramping of feet as if a column of infantry was on the march. To our great consternation we saw in the dark a body of human beings moving towards us in warlike fashion. They carried no light and made no noise beyond the tramp of their feet. Neither did they carry any weapons. When we discovered this, we felt more assured of our safety, but I was most miserable fearing that these might be the cannibals Father Ferdinand had spoken of. The column marched in silence past our retreat and in half an hour vanished. The next morning we resolved to find out who these men were. We therefore searched all over the forests but could find no sign of human habitation. I suddenly caught sight of a huge hole in the earth about 4 feet deep and on looking into it noticed that it was well-guarded by a wall of tree trunks to prevent the earth falling in. At the bottom of the well was a passage leading evidently to a subterranean chamber. I called the attention of the others to this peculiar excavation, evidently the work of intelligent beings: and they all desired that one of us should go down and see whither the passage led. No one volunteered to go down and so we decided to cast lots. As the Almighty had decreed, it happened that the lot fell on one Carlo Montejado an experienced sailor who had visited Japan and the Philippines and was well acquainted with many dialects of these islanders. After embracing us and having said his prayers and invoked the protection of the Blessed Virgin, he made the sign of the cross, and jumped into the pit. He had no sooner reached the bottom than a loud and shrill noise rose from the ground. The next moment the same sound was repeated all over the country and we found ourselves in the midst of many hundred naked caricatures of man grinning and jumping all around.

Montejado was not easily frightened. The savages lived in the caves in the day time unless in case of danger. No less than twenty rushed towards him but with one blow of his hand he drove them back. It appeared that they had a sentry watching in the passage and whenever anything unusual happened he gave warning by discharging a peculiar automatic wind instrument. This consisted of a large piece of bamboo the dividing partitions in which had all been removed except at the two ends. A small hole was left at one end; into this a peculiar powder was introduced with some water. This hole was then strongly plugged with india-rubber and tied in position by a string. The sentry stood by one of these tubes and as soon as any occasion called for warning the population he simply snapped the string and applied a kind of pipe to the aperture when the escaping gas caused by the fermentation of the powder gave rise to the disgusting noise mentioned. There were these excavations all over the country although we did not notice them before: and out of these from ten to fifty savages came out. As the smell of these creatures was anything but pleasant, Montejado, although he had driven away the coward savages, did not feel inclined to march into their lair. Foreseeing danger, he jumped back to join us. As far as I can remember, up till this time we had heard no articulate speech; nothing but grunts being audible. In less than half an hour the ground before us was literally covered with these brutes. They dared not touch us but imitated all our movements. The air was intensely stuffy and insufferable, and we wondered how we could get out of this sea of saves. Gomez was in favour of driving them off and Montejado was of the same opinion, but I thought that although these savages were great cowards, yet they were evidently strong and would not run away so easily. Fortunately my advice was listened to, for subsequently we discovered that these people were exceedingly furious when they overwhelmingly outnumbered their enemies although very servile when they were few in number. We held a council and decided to send Montejado to speak to them. He naturally first addressed them in the dialect of his native province of Estremadura informing them of the holiness of the Pope of Rome and asking them to submit to be christened as the subjects and slaves of the Most Catholic Majesty of Spain. The natives simply yelled when he had finished his Spanish oration, because the Spaniards, overcome by the patriotism of their spokesman, had shouted at the top of their voices “Viva l’Espana.” The natives could not control themselves in the presence of such an uproar and gave vent to a most hideous screeching. The Spaniards considered this a great ovation, and concluded that the savages had submitted to the Spanish yoke.

The natives were busy whispering inaudibly and the Spaniards were meditating the arrest of the chiefs as hostages, when a shot but sturdy fellow approached us, and bowed in a most polite manner. This man could not be distinguished from the rest; but he spoke a dialect of Malay which was well known to Montejado. His message was that the natives were glad that the mother Earth had sent from the sea such fair victims for their palates and that they had no doubt the Spaniards would be prepared to die there and then! Our surprise and horror were unspeakable. Having nothing wherewith to defend ourselves we hastily decided to attach the natives at once with our fists and take possession of any weapons they had. Whereupon, we arrested their spokesman and threw him down. To our delight and astonishment a deafening noise went up from the natives and a cloud of dust rose up to indicate that the savages had dispersed. In half an hour the place was as deserted as before. The poor native was then allowed to get up. He told us that the people were cannibals, but they never fought, and considered such a trick as that played by the Spaniards as most shameful! They had retired from shame and remorse that such gallant people purposely sent to them for their repast should have been so base as to attack an unarmed envoy! Through our interpreter we denied that we had been sent to them for their dinner. We claimed to be free men and we meant to fight for our liberty. The native looked hard at Montejado; fell prostrate on the ground, and in this position asked the Spaniards to have mercy on his people. We were at a loss what to make of him. Presently the natives returned and poured upon us a terrible hail of rocks and stones and pieces of wood. We ran towards the trees as fast as we could, but a stone unfortunately struck me on the head and I fell and was taken prisoner. Three of the Spaniards were killed while the others made their way into the jungle. I was the only live prisoner and saw the disgust the bodies of my comrades carried back to the plain and there cut up with bamboo knives and served out to the bloodthirsty cannibals who danced and feasted on my friends’ carcasses in a most diabolical fashion.


 Being bound hand and foot to the trunk of an enormous tree, I prepared myself for the cruel fate which had overtaken some of my companions. I turned my head away from the awful sight; but the fiendish yells of the cannibals kept me in mind of the fate which was soon to be my own. In that moment of suspense when one stands on the brink of this world ready in the twinkling of an eye to be shoved into the other – either superhuman courage or abject meanness dominates one’s character. I was thankful for the teaching of my father which enabled me, in that critical moment, to act up true to the traditions of a disciple of Confucius. I resolved either to die or obtain my liberty. My mind was in a state of delirium, and in the midst of memories of bygone days and my recent trials, there stood out brightly a legend in letters of gold – inscribed on the same musty volume belonging to my family and seen by me on board the Spanish vessel. My inmost soul was attracted by this effulgence of light, and to my joy, the words read thus: “Death is the consummation of earthly bliss.”

I felt reconciled to my lot and fell asleep only to dream of my native land and to experience the bitter anguish of my enforced exile. Suddenly two hard kicks on my back brought me to my senses, and on opening my eyes I was much surprised to find a countryman of mine standing beside a black cannibal and both grinning at me. My countryman was also naked though he still kept up the traditions of his fathers and wore the ‘pien’ or queue, by which I recognised him to be my countryman. At the sight of this emblem of my fatherland—a token so sacred that even cannibalism was powerless to remove it—tears of joy rolled involuntarily down my cheeks. The man looked at me with a fixed stare. I too gazed at him and I saw he was moved. He addressed me in the dialect of the coast and assured me of his protection. The black native looked bewildered, and going close up to my countryman yelled some words which I failed to understand. My rescuer stooped over me, and I thought that my last hour had come. I was astonished however to find that he caught hold of my queue and yelled in return. Thereupon the Negrito unbound me. Falling prostrate before my compatriot and benefactor, I thanked him for sparing the life of a filial son who yet hoped to return home to perform his duties. The elderly man wiped his moistened eyes, and said “Rise, my boy, and come with me.” I instantly rose and awaited his orders. He took me by the hand and wept. Then he told me how some 25 years previously his lot had been cast among the cannibals whom he called ‘the race of sycophants.’ He was the captain of a pirate fleet which had met the same fate as our luckless raft. He had with him 300 men, 80 women and 47 boys and girls, of whom 200 men and all the young people were lost. But the survivors had weapons with which they carried on a terrible feud, not with the sycophants, but with the Mangataloos who belonged to a neighbouring island, but who at the time lorded over the wretched cannibals. The poisoned arrows of the Chinese proved too much for the natives, and the Mangataloos set fire to every hut and departed to their own island. Since then they sycophants had dwelt in underground holes, and nothing would induce them to build huts again.

When the Mangataloos had left, the sycophants crawled towards the Chinese conquerors, and here the speaker felt something burning within him and burst forth in these words: — “Then, my country man, my first thoughts were to return to our native land, but my companions opposed me, and I foolishly decided to civilize these cannibals and tried to dissuade them from their animal ways. I saw they were a set of servile but treacherous wretches. I accepted their homage and distributed our clothing amongst them to clothe their nakedness as we had our women with us. Alas we had not enough! We were obliged to retain the smallest quantity for each.

At the end of six months we had no more clothing and the cannibals were satisfied. Look at this wretch here! said he, “don’t you see that he too has a nice queue.” I looked round and felt inclined to laugh at what I saw. The Negrito had short curly hair, but he must imitate his superiors and so had gummed to his curly exuberance the bristle-like hairs of a large palm. Thus each Negrito had a most ridiculous make-believe of a queue dangling from his head. My countryman went on to dilate on the degradation of his companions who had married with the natives and bitterly complained of the barbarism of the half-castes. “I had often wished” said he “that some natural calamity would blot out these effete descendants of our great nation. The only connection they have with the traditions and customs of our country is the queue.” A multitude had by this time approached us, and I saw in the crowd many of my countrymen, and several half-castes and blacks. I was informally introduced to them in the language of the sycophants, and I was able to detect many words of Chinese origin in the jargon they spoke. I was made to undress and my clothing was buried, the better not to arouse the curiosity of the blacks. My protector explained that I was a relative of his who had come to visit him and that I had fallen into the hands off the Spaniards on the way. Many of the blacks looked chagrined, but all made a low obeisance and retired.

I was then taken to one of the underground excavations. As soon as I entered the first apartment I was seized with the most unspeakable enthusiasm, for I saw before me, as if in a dream, an apartment furnished after the manner usual in my country. Moreover, I was delighted to see little children—thank Heaven—not half-castes, decently clad in clothing made of a coarse kind of vegetable fibre and woven by the Chinese women. My friend retired to a recess and came out dressed in short breeches made of the same stuff. I was shown into another recess where I found a straw bed and some warm dress. I was too glad to be clad. Meanwhile my hostess had prepared a special meal for us, and I enjoyed a Chinese repast with every possible relish as I had not tasted anything Chinese for over a year. I was asked many questions, and as I spoke, many shed tears, especially the women. I observed that my patron had no savages in his quarters. I remarked to my friend that his life underground did not appear consistent with his manners among the blacks. In reply he said it would be impossible to dress abroad as the sycophants would demand something to wear. I thought to myself that that attitude of aggressive mimicry was hardly properly called sycophantic, but my friend assured me that it was impossible on this earth to find a more servile and mean creature than this specimen of the Bulu race. After dinner, we again undressed and went out accompanied by some blacks who were on duty in various holes close to the quarters of the Bulu chief. This chief was none other than my friend whose surname was Chen.

We went to see the oldest Bulu, a sorcerer, who lived in a cave far away in the jungle. It was several hours before we arrived at the place. The sorcerer was paralysed and blind and we found him lying like a dog in the midst of animal debris and remains. As it was already late, Chen simply introduced me to him, whereupon I was startled to find the old wretch still able to utter the fiendish stentorian yells peculiar to his race. My friend explained that this noise meant surprise at my adventures. I asked why he had taken the trouble to come all this distance to introduce me to a blind and paralysed savage. But Chen preferred to give his explanation after we had returned, and so we retraced our steps through the jungle. For many miles we proceeded silently, but when we entered the village of holes (if I may so call the place) Chen pulled me by the hand and requested me to marry his daughter. The suddenness of the request staggered me, albeit such a sudden proposal was a common custom of my country. I shuddered at the idea of passing the rest of my life among these cannibals and of procreating a race to disgrace the civilization of my renowned ancestors. However I assured Chen of my gratitude and obligation but asked for time, and I hinted that I would sooner face the unknown dangers of an attempt to reach some civilised land than spend the remainder of my days in an atmosphere so brutalising. Chen was not displeased but simply nodded his head.

The next morning, on waking up I found a wooden bowl of water for my use, and after the necessary preparation I showed myself to Chen and his family. My eyes first fell on the sweet face of his beautiful daughter. She was one of the rare specimens of real beauty, whom to look upon is to fall in love with. Everything connected with her seemed to have been fashioned by some genius who appreciated the influence of delicacy and symmetry on the human mind. Her well-shaped white neck and stately figure were models of feminine grace, while her eyes were so bright and her glances so penetrating that I was ready there and then to embrace her as an angel. However I restrained my exuberant fancy and took my seat in the family circle. The breakfast consisted merely of jungle fruits, boiled maize and yams. I then learned that under the supervision of my countrymen, agriculture had made great progress: and this accounted for the tilled fields which my Spanish companions and I had so much admired when we regained our consciousness after the great shock we had sustained. In the course of our talk, I expressed some wonder at not having seen any Chinese at the time of our capture. Chen calmly said that he and his colleagues had given up fighting and in the day time beyond inspecting the tillage of the soil, never associated with the Negritos.

I was glad to observe that Chen, old pirate as he was, had lifted his women folk out of the degraded position they were in in our native land. Men and women moved on equal terms and let it be said to their lasting honour and credit, my countrywomen preferred death to giving up their dress. Thus from the very outset, they in one way or another had covered themselves with a kind of coarse cloth made from the fibres of a certain flax plant which they had discovered in the island. Had the sycophants been more intelligent, the whole population might by this time have been clothed. When Mrs. Chen came to this part of her narrative, she was interrupted by her husband:– “Now Chang, tell me if you can read and write the characters in which our language is written.” I humbly answered in the affirmative. “Now you are the man I want. Do you know that we Chinese are now about 50 strong and we have over 20 women and 70 boys and girls? There is not one among us who can read and write Chinese. The children who are half-castes cannot speak our language, but know only the fiendish yells of their mother tongue, and unless educated and civilised in the sacred doctrines of our sages will before long become worse cannibals than the race to which their mothers belong. You are young, and in your face I see something which tells me that within you is a potent spirit. You have seen my daughter.” Turning round to the blushing damsel, the old pirate smilingly nodded to his pet girl and added “My dearest child, your charms speak for themselves. Do not fret.” Then turning to me, he said “My daughter will give you every help. She is very anxious to learn if you will start a class.” I wished to say something nice, but my imagination utterly failed me. I could only murmur “I will try.”

After breakfast I retired to my recess, and while I was thinking over recent events, the beautiful daughter of Chen made her appearance with a most elegant courtesy and a most bewitching smile. I rose instantly and enquired if I might be of service to her. I was pleased beyond measure to note that she was very different from girls at home. I suppose it was to the independent lives these pirates lived that she owed the buoyancy and cheerfulness which made her companionship so extremely agreeable. She had come to ascertain my wishes, and I proposed a visit to the farm to watch the natives at work. My gentle friend dissuaded me from this plan, not only because there was nothing to see but also since it was not without inconvenience that we could go together, inasmuch as I would have to go naked like a savage. For this reason, the Chinese never ventured abroad except on important occasions, and their women only did so when the blacks had been ordered to their holes.

I therefore concluded that the best thing to be done would be to visit the islands. As I had not seen any vessel about on the beach I enquired of the damsel in what manner the people managed to cross the sea to the neighbouring islands. She stared at me with a look of intense surprise at my childish simplicity. “Well, sir,” said she, “it is very easy to build raft. “I am surprised,” said I, “that your people have no canoes to go to sea.” “No!” she replied with a toss of her head, “I see you have not had any experience of the Bulus. Why if there were rafts, they would desert us or bring enemies to destroy us, whereas now although they could build a raft they would sooner fly than do anything so difficult. We totally destroy every raft after an expedition.”

I was careful to ascertain what islands it would profit me to visit. She named several, and then after a momentary pause, she looked languishingly at me and said “The most interesting place is the large island Ganiserop,[1] once the chief centre of commerce and the possession of the Herojo[2] princes. But about a century ago the latter foolishly signed their heritage away on the assurance of the Portuguese priests that for so doing they would get the blessing of the Virgin and a prominent place in the celestial regions. You will have guessed that the Herojoes after a slight resistance accepted the religion of the Portuguese and began to establish churches. In a short time, a population of five thousand supported no less than six hundred priests.”


 “Not very long after the white men had established themselves as masters in Ganiserop, there arrived in the harbour a fleet of strange ships, the bows of which carried two painted eyes. The sails also were unlike anything known to the natives. The men were mostly young or middle-aged, but there were a few old men. Of women and children there were none. These men speak a language so strange that they are not understood in their own tongue to this day. They began to exchange commodities and carried on a brisk business. When the fleet left after four months’ stay, about twenty men remained to establish a depot for the sale of the rare products of their land. For many years these people came and went; and every time a fleet of ships came they brought with them a new band of adventurers. No one knew how this nation had been able to produce the wares which everybody so much admired. It transpired afterwards that these men came from the wonderful land of Tasugan, where gods walked among men, and mortals possessed the wisdom of the gods. To make my story short, I may say that the Tasuganese in course of time settled very largely in the island, and through their influence and industry, the two of Ganiserop is now a model city and is the seat of a very high civilization. If you like to see the islands, the journey to Ganiserop is the one you should make first.”

I could not help interrupting the interesting narrative of Chen’s daughter at this point to ask how it was that her people did not abandon their savage life when they had such a place to which they could resort. “Mr. Chang,” she replied, “you are a stranger here, and do dot know that bad and servile though these Bulus are, they are yet superior to the degenerate descendants of the Tasuganese. Papa went over to Ganiserop to examine the state of society there and after due consideration, came to the conclusion that we were better off where we were. But dear Papa is not an excellent judge of what is good from a social or moral point of view, having been a pirate all his life. I do therefore want you, a scholar, to visit the island and see things for yourself.”

I desired to start the same day for Ganiserop, but found that the raft would take one whole day to prepare. While waiting for my boat, I enquired the meaning of my visit to the blind and paralysed Bulu. My patron’s daughter, Kwei-hwa, did not know, but Madame Chen who had joined us explained that the old man was a sorcerer who had predicted the arrival in Chen’s territory some time this year of a descendant of our sages. “Consequently, my husband took you to him” said Madame, “but he did not like to say positively you are the great star. He had some doubts. He would wait.” I felt thankful to the sorcerer for so accurately foretelling my coming. I should like to have seen my star. It could not have been bright seeing all the misery I had undergone. I determined to find in Ganiserop a means of reaching the great land of the Tai Ching rulers where my parents were pining for me. So soon as the raft was ready, I jumped on it. This raft was much better built than the one the Spaniards had. The bottom was made of a thick layer of coconut husks strung together by strong hemp cords, so that the body of the raft showed above water. Five rowers on each side gave the little flat boat a fair amount of speed. One mast and a very broad sail like that used on junks enabled us to utilise the strong winds prevailing in these seas.

Ten veteran pirates were chosen to row us, and Chen and I embarked at daybreak on the fourth day of my deliverance. I regretted that Kwei-hwa could not accompany us but the excitement created by the prospect of seeing the wonderful city considerably tempered my passion, and I sat listlessly gazing on the waters as our raft swiftly glided along. The tropical sun shone with all his wonted splendour. The azure vault above and the limitless expanse of innumerable ripples below had an overpowering influence on the mind. I yielded to the call of nature and stretched out in deep sleep under the canopy of a small shade built of palm leaves. When I awoke, it was evening, and after our dinner, I noticed on board a large quantity of hemp, mineral stuff, vegetables and poultry. I enquired of old Chen whether these were intended for the market and whether it had been his custom to take his produce to sell at Ganiserop. “No, my boy,” answered Chen good humouredly, “the cannibal island does not produce enough for that purpose, but I am obliged to take over a few things because you cannot get on at Ganiserop without money and as this is the commodity which we do not keep in our island, it is necessary, don’t you see, to sell our goods for cash or barter with them for anything we might want.”

After an uneventful voyage, we entered the harbour of Ganiserop, where ships from all parts of the world might be seen, but unfortunately the junks from my native country had shortly before our arrival departed. The town was very remarkable in every way. The houses were richly painted and ornamented with gold, silver and precious stones. The streets were paved with marble; the tyres of carts and carriages were enveloped in india-rubber, and likewise were the hoofs of cattle and horses encased, so that traffic along the streets was perfectly noiseless. One of the most curious sights was the henpecked husband carrying a basket and following his wife to market. In this wonderful city, the women rule everything: the men did all the menial work and were in a state of absolute servility.

Chen had some acquaintances among our countrymen, and we accordingly went to stay with one of them in a magnificent house situated on its own grounds. Our host had married a native born lady of Ganiserop, and I had therefore an excellent opportunity of seeing the inner life of this strange people. I had stayed with him but one day when I discovered that the men lived in mortal fear of the women. On two occasions on the first day, our host was beaten by his wife. He had the temerity to cry aloud like a child. I rushed in the direction of the noise thinking something untoward had occurred, and to my horror, I found Mr. Lu Chi Ka our good host tied by his queue to the bed post, while his wife was administering to him a sound thrashing with her slippers. My intrusion was inopportune, for Madame flew at me in a fearful rage. Our host apologised for me by knocking his head on the floor, but his wife would not be appeased till she had made me feel her “sting” as the natives say. The extraordinary scene and the temper of our hostess bewildered me, and I retreated as hastily as I could, defending myself from the assaults of the infuriated woman. I immediately requested Chen for an explanation. The old pirate smiled, and said to me quietly, “Be calm my lad, you will learn all when Mr. Lu comes back.” Before long, the noise of the beating and the howling ceased, and Madame Lu appeared dragging her husband by his queue. Madame was good enough to tell Chen that she had punished poor Lu because he had the audacity to ask friends to stay in the house without consulting her. Of course we knew that ours was the blame as Lu did not know we were coming. So Chen and I stood up and bowed to the woman, who retired and left her husband with us. We were full of apologies, but our host assured us that a beating was nothing to him as he had become used to it. Lu, however, advised us to depart and promised to send us to a house not far distant where a number of our countrymen who were unmarried were living together. We gladly accepted his offer and left the house without delay.

The bachelors’ quarters were comfortable enough, and we bartered with the traders the goods we had brought with us. With the money so obtained we resolved to see something more of the city and its people. The currency consisted of large pieces of lead and leather notes. The largest token weighs two pounds and is worth one Spanish dollar: and the smaller pieces vary in weight from one half to ten ounces. The notes were very convenient to the natives who used them as wrappers for rice and other articles purchased. They measure six inches broad and twelve inches long. On a hot day they are used as fans or as headgear.

Our friends told us that the men were kept in a servile and degrading condition by the women. No male could go out either in the day or night time without the express permission of the females. To get this leave, the husband had to approach his wife in a crouching attitude and then to kiss his wife’s feet three times. If consent was given, the wretch of a husband would be patted on the shoulder; if permission was withheld, a kick would be the sign. The women received a sort of education from the magicians who belonged to the same sex, while men and boys were brought up and made to do the work of beasts. Every evening the fashionable ladies left their houses, having locked their husbands up in special rooms, to visit their friends and clubs. I was anxious to see for myself one of these clubs; and after full enquiry I learnt that the only way I could do so would be to apply to a government bureau called the “Anatawan” for a permit. Otherwise I would be arrested, and the women would give summary punishment in any way they liked short of taking my life. I did not ask Chen about the advisability of my visiting the “Anatawan,” but I longed to see for myself a conclave of the opposite sex, whom I found to be good looking, enjoying themselves in their own good way.

The “Anatawan” is a most elaborate building constructed on the most approved style of architecture, and was richly ornamented with sculpture and plaster work. Over the doorway was a large inscription in the hieroglyphic characters “Anatawan,” which being interpreted, meant “The Protectorate of Males.”[3] The main entrance led to a spacious hall into which opened several offices. On the wall hung several paintings of philanthropic ladies who had done useful work in the rescue of men and boys from the persecution of women. The institution was in charge of a Protectress and a body of fifteen lady officials. The laws were carved in stone in no less than seventeen languages, and the first place was occupied by the ideographs of my fatherland. When I arrived at the door, I saw three or four women with badges of office on their right arms, but they took no notice of me. I walked into the hall and stood opposite the Chinese table to read when I was startled by a sharp knock on my head. Turning round, I found a fat female looking angrily at me. She spoke to me in one of the coast dialects of Fu-kien and as I did not understand her, she whistled when out came another female with an ink slab, brush and paper. The first female wrote down in my own language a series of questions requesting me to give my name, address and the object of visit. I replied briefly that I wanted a permit to visit the ladies’ club. I was told to wait until I had been examined by the Protectress. I was left standing for several hours and then a female attendant came to lead me to the great woman. She was gaily dressed and was a woman of about forty years of age. I had to stand before her and was put through a searching examination which being so curious and interesting, I would not for the world have omitted from my narrative. “Are you a free man?” My answer was in the affirmative. “Do you come here of your own accord? Have you children? Have you lady friends in Ganiserop?” These questions were easily answered. Then came this. “Do you know what kind of life you will have to lead if you obtain this permit, and do you deliberately desire to sacrifice your liberty?” The Protectress with brush in hand looked at me with a bland countenance and seemed quite indifferent whichever way I answered. On my part, I felt very unhappy for the question was unexpected and unanswerable. I stood half-dazed but my curiosity was more whetted than ever and in the indecision and hesitancy of the moment, I lost my usual caution and wrote down that I was prepared most willingly for whatever lay in store for me at the ladies’ club. I did not then realise what I was doing, and I can now see that it was the chivalry and enthusiasm of youth that fired me on. I was burning with passion for the companionship of the opposite sex; and I felt that I would be happy if I could be left to sit beside a beauty whom I could adore.

However, I gave the answer as I stated, and I was taken away to another room where marks for my identification were taken down. I was then given a piece of goatskin on which were inscribed certain hieroglyphics and was tamped the seal of the great protectorate. I was then told to pay a fee of twenty half ounce pieces of the lead I had already referred to. I paid the female official in attendance one of the leather notes and had the misfortune to be paid back ten pound weight of lead. I was taken by a female attendant to a licensed depot where I waited until I could wait no longer. The weight of the lead became insupportable. I went back to the official to whom I had paid the fee, and asked her to let me go wherever I might be allowed without further delay. The answer I got was a sharp slap on my face. No one would work for nothing I was told. So I paid the woman one pound weight of lead, and was thankful to be relieved of it. It was wonderful what the pound of lead did. Instantly I was led out to the back yard and put into a cart. Noiselessly we drove on until we arrived at a palatial building in the middle of a flower garden. I was delighted with the miniature lakes, streams and bridges. The fragrance of lowers in bloom was exquisite. But nothing captivated me more than the building and its inmates. The palace of an emperor could not be more magnificent. The floor was paved with mosaic in the most artistic fashion. The pillars were of marble, jade, porphyry, granite and the like. The divans were gorgeously embroidered, and richly coloured carpets covered bits of the floor here and there. Of lamps there was no end. Fresh flowers peeped out everywhere. The palace was a veritable paradise, and I imagined that here perfect happiness was to be found.

As soon as we arrived, we were received by an old hag, who walked away with my female attendant, leaving me behind. I was astonished to see so many of my countrymen in the establishment and I soon learnt my fate. I had to dress myself in fancy costume, wash my body with rose water, powder my face, trim my hair in approved fashion, learn to dance and sing, and become initiated in the difficult art of pleasing the ladies. I confess that my feelings though shocked were scarcely disagreeable. The only objectionable part of the course was the delay in my probationership in the fulfilment of my desire to enjoy the company of the ladies. We were taught these various tricks by experienced men who had lived years in the establishment and had been pensioned off, being no longer either attractive or agreeable to the lordly females. After I had qualified to be a courtesan, I discovered to my great disgust that I had absolutely no choice as to my companions, but that I might be hired out by any member of the club, and I had to perform all the evening and do whatever lay in my power to please my employer. It was fortunate for me perhaps that my first employers were all ugly and time worn hags whose faces were heavily wrinkled and whose hair was more or less grey. Never till I found myself in that dependent position did I fully realise the cruel tyranny of a custom which allowed so much power to one sex and denied it wholly to the other. I became morose, and the better luck of some of the other men in the depot only convinced me the more that I was born under a very unlucky star.

One evening some two years after I had become an accomplished musician and dancer, and five years after I had started on this career, I was hired for the first time by a young lady of prepossessing appearance, full of all womanly charms, and, to my joy, not yet wedded to a slave. The marriage laws of this country compelled every woman to marry a man of her choice, and the husband had no voice in the matter at all. The mother of a family would sell a son to be a husband for a certain weight of lead, and as soon a he was given away, he became the absolute property of his wife. To prevent his evil propensities finding outlet, the wife locked her husband up, or led him about like sheep. Those of my countrymen who had been foolish enough to offer themselves for marriage were dragged along the streets by their long plaited hair and I really had great contempt for them for allowing themselves to be so treated.

Well, to return to the fair damsel, I was beside myself with joy to have been hired by a person so charming and agreeable to fully up to the ideal I had somehow come to possess of womanly beauty. No attendant at the club could be more enthusiastic than I was that evening. I rushed about to provide my mistress with refreshments, I danced, sang and fanned her with delight. I did not know what fatigue was; and, on her part, my employer was pleased with me. The natural feelings were not altogether dead in these fine women. Some of them still had the simplicity and kindliness of their sex, which to us are worth more than their good looks. I was allowed to return to my depot at a late hour, and was paid twice as much as I usually received. When she gave me the equivalent of four Spanish dollars, I felt inclined to refuse her offer but dared not. Such conduct would be punishable and he construed as an open insult. The next evening I was again hired by the same lady, and thenceforth I was her attendant nightly for about two months. It was very trying to me that I should have to continue to act as a menial to one whom I had ardently fallen in love with. Fortunately, my mistress, Mullio, had also fallen in love with me.

Late one night instead of dismissing me she desired that I might accompany her. I was only too glad to have the opportunity of a private talk: for in the club, the male attendants were not allowed to speak with uplifted heads. We were teased or petted as our employers pleased, but our duty was to be passive. As soon as Mullio and I were out of the club, my mistress gave me a warm embrace and I felt transported with delight. However I had not forgotten Mr. Lu and his tyrannical wife, and I rather shrank from the idea of becoming a husband in Ganiserop. I told her therefore that if she claimed me for her husband, I would have to submit to her choice, but I protested that if she really loved me, she would remove me from the ladies’ paradise to some place where I might have some liberty.

Mullio proved to be a brave and true love. She sold all her lands and houses and paid off to the depot keeper the debt which I had incurred for the lessons in courting! In less than a week after that eventful night, we embarked on a Portuguese ship bound for Canton—the capital of the Kwantung province. This return voyage to my native land was like a dream to me. My wife turned out to be a most agreeable lady, and ere six months had elapsed, I had the pleasure of presenting her to my wondering parents together with a splendid fortune realised from her sales. Thus ended my travels which, begun under such pitiable circumstances, culminated in my getting a charming companion for a wife. My experiences at Ganiserop prevented me from treating my wife as my countrymen usually do, for I knew too well the misery of a life of seclusion and dependence. My wife and I live on terms of equality and are the objects of admiration to the villagers for we still reside in the hamlet of my forefathers.


[1] An anagram for Singapore.

[2] An anagram for Johore

[3] Ironic reference to both the Protectorate of Chinese, established in 1877, and the Po Leung Kuk, organized by the Chinese community under the auspices of the Chinese Protectorate to provide a refuge for women resuced from prostitution.